Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Norway Kommune (County) Maps

Karla at the Norway List has provided researchers with some digitized kommune maps of Norway (donated by Michael Landmark). Hoorah! With these maps, you can see right down to village and parish names. This level of detail is very helpful for pinpointing exactly where it is that Great Great Uncle Peder Pedersen came from, and the reason he met and married Kari Karlsdatter from Harran is because it's just a hop, skip and a jump away from Peder's home parish of Grong.

Many of us doing Norwegian research have used bygdebøker: local family and community histories written by Norwegians--in Norwegian. They are a treasure house of information, if one can pick out a few basic terms in the language. One thing they are often lacking, however, is a good map.

While these maps may not be copied for commercial purposes because their copyright has not yet expired, they are great for using as a personal reference.

Now, is it Namsos or Namskoggan that is the furthest north? I'm always getting the two mixed up...

Saturday, January 26, 2008

America Letter

Several branches of my Norwegian-American family began farming in Wisconsin before relocating to Minnesota. The Wisconsin Historical Society website has a fine example of a typical "America Letter," in which immigrants wrote home to Norway and explained all about their day-to-day lives, and in most cases, their newly found prosperity. Increasing population in 19th century Norway made it impossible for the country's agricultural production to support everyone, and only a chosen few had the opportunity to become land owners. When the earliest Norwegian emigrants left their homeland for American soil, many of them settled in Wisconsin. The excerpts below are from a letter written by Norwegian immigrants who settled in Dane County, Wisconsin during the 1840s. These reports from kin in America were eagerly awaited in Norway and widely circulated in the homeland communities. The main author of this letter is Gunder Asmundson Bondal, (pronounced "Boon-doll"), who arrived in Wisconsin in 1848 at age 44. His wife, Kari Evensdatter, also contributed to the letter. In 1854, five years after arriving in Wisconsin, the Bondal family wrote to siblings in Fyrsedal, Norway.  
Dear Sisters and Brothers: We are firmly convinced that you have waited a long time for a writing and information from us in this, our foreign home. This step to find a way to this our farm on which we have settled was a chance course as over the ocean we went forward to take to this moral state. We left Crag 8 days after Santenhun Day and finally reached New York after 8 weeks and 3 days of sailing. . . We came to New York on December 1, at 6 o'clock in the morning. On the 2nd we left there at 6 o'clock in the morning and on the 3rd we were in Albany at 6 o'clock in the morning. The canal begins in the town of Albany and goes to the town of Buffalo. From there begins the long inland journey from New York to Koshkonong, it is called karskland in Norske. . . The way has been long, about 300 Norske miles. . . It is almost unbelievable how fortunate it has gone for us the whole time in the new world. There is no one of our ages here who have climbed upward as fast as we. Cattle is now high priced so the first thing each of us did was to sell cattle for 80 dollars each. We own 4 milk cows, 2 that are 2 years old, 2 that are 1 year old and 1 calf. 5 driving oxen, 10 hogs or swine, 20 chickens, 2 geese, and 5 sows. This fall we butchered 4 pretty big hogs. This fall we cut so much wood that we can sell a hundred dollars' worth. We had a desirable and fruitful year. It is not often that we have this much wood and it also has a high price. There are several here who have cut a thousand bushels of wood. . . The price per bushel is a dollar, and that is expensive. The new railroad has just been finished to Madison, which is 3 Norske miles west of here. And everything is expensive here that we need to work the land. We bought a plow to work up the new ground with for 12 dollars. . . A four wheeled wagon costs 61 dollars. One thrashing machine for 25 dollars. 2 iron spades for 2½ dollars. . . Animals or cattle are high priced. A cow costs from 15 to 20 & 25 dollars. For the very best is 30 dollars. . . A pair of horses cost 150 to 200 dollars. There are many horses here. All the different kind of good work tools here are so expensively made the Norske tools are like they were made by a child. All that man shall work with is made in a large factory that is usually driven by a steam engine. There are machines used to cut wood with. Some are called mower machines to cut hay with. Machines to saw wood with. Machines to thrash with. These machines are driven by horses. Wages vary with a year's time. In the summer, wages are 15 to 20 dollars for a month. In the Winter they are 10 to 13 dollars a month. . . Girls usually earn from 1 to 1.30 dollars to 1.50 for a week. The wage is the same both summer and winter. Their work is the same as a housekeeper in Norway. They have more respect for girls here than in Norway. When an American wants to hire a maid, he comes with a horse and carriage. . . And here it is so that a working man will never be from the husband's or master's table to eat whether he works for a shopkeeper or others. All shall be as highly respected. Yes, Americans are friendly and high-flightedness we cannot understand. We are so used to the proud Europeans who are haughty. . . . And one never sees an American with his hands at his sides as the foreigners do.[1] The land's riches and fertility is impossible for us to describe. . . The land is not flat but rolling. It is layered with hills and valleys and mountains, which are higher. These stretch for the most part north and south. . . Here the prairie has had cholera and it has ruled as in Norway. It comes to take control, and it has dominated. Cholera has been here on Koshkonong, but this fall it has not been here in these easterly places. Aadne has been sick with it 2 times and both times we cured him. We all have been in good health the whole time and have had better health than in Norway. I have not been this well for many years. . . . Kari also finds herself well satisfied. Now we do not want to go back even if we were the owners of the best farm in Moland. This we know you cannot believe. My wife has had 2 pregnancies since we arrived here. The first was in the year 1850 the 13 of April and then she delivered twins. One was named Grumund and the other Ole. Grumund lived just 10 days and then died. Ole is doing well. The other was born August 16 in 1853 and was baptized on the 25th. That one was given the name Tone in Baptism. All of our children are in good health, growing and thriving well. We do not want to forget to thank our Father in Heaven who cares for all in his creation every day of our lives. I would not advise any stranger or rich man to come here to this ground as those who have large estates would wonder at the beginning. But those who are good workers will go on because one has to work harder here than in the Fatherland... Here there is a great desire to go to California to look for gold. Thousands of Norske and Americans are going and coming back with hundreds of dollars in gold and money. Those who go there earn 100 dollars a month. Knut Olsen Porsgrund has big thoughts about going there. I think he will. Before, money for the trip was 300 dollars. Now it is 100 dollars. Now there is a faster way to get there. The [wagon] train is now finished to California. Those who are so inclined and are able to go there are merely fortunate. For me, Kari Evensdatter, I would like to kindly ask you who are there to greet my aged father if he is still living, and to all our sisters and brothers that we are living well and are with good health. From your devoted brother, Aadne Asmundson, I believe that I would advise you to come here to America and that you would find it better here when you shall acquire 100 dollars when you earn only 20 dollars in Norway. This I am well acquainted with. I can get a large contract for steady work and get money. Otherwise do as you think, but my advice is the best. Now we will go no further and must break off this our writing. With a diligent greeting to lovable and unforgettable sisters and brothers. And the same to all other relatives and known friends. Live well, and if we are not fortunate enough to see one another more in this world, may we all meet and go forward with gladness in the next. Write us a letter and tell of yourselves. Koshkonong in Wisconsin the 17th of January 1854.
Gunder Asmundson Bondal Aadne Asmundson Bondal Kari Evensdatter 1854
[1] A reference to the slight bow, or submissive dip, that Norwegians offered to people of higher social or economic rank in the old country.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Dancing in Boom Town

My mother has a favorite photograph of herself, which was taken in Richmond, California when she was 25 years old. I recently found out that she (Doris) had been carrying the original around in her purse for years, and I convinced her to loan it to me so I could have professional copies made. Persons involved with eldercare, take note: what unknown and irreplaceable family treasures are being toted around in your mother's or aunt's purse? Better find out--respectfully, of course!

In 1945, Doris was still a country girl getting accustomed to city life, though immediately after leaving her childhood farm home she worked a six month stint at a candy factory in St. Paul, Minnesota. She loved being in St. Paul, but was somehow convinced to join her sister, Phyllis, who had recently moved out to Richmond on the west coast. Doris and her aunt, Mabel, rode the train out from Minneapolis in April 1945. There were so many soldiers aboard that the two women had to sit on their little (and very hard) suitcases near the bathroom during the entire trip.

Doris shared a one-bedroom, second-story apartment with no ice box on Sixth Street near the elevated railroad tracks in downtown Richmond, along with her sister, aunt, and a cousin. They made do. Sometimes they worked the canneries, and several of them tried waitressing. Doris started out as a waitress, but soon gave it up because she was too shy; she had great difficulty with the amount of personal interaction it required.

At the apartment, two of the women shared a double bed, another had a cot, and the fourth slept on the living room sofa. Not having an ice box meant stocking up on canned goods and carrying the heavy bags home on foot, while buying perishables as often as possible. A kitchen cupboard was vented to the outside, but it only kept things as cool as the outdoor temperature. In the Bay Area, that usually wasn't very cold. My grandfather, a custodian at the Ford Motor plant, was in the habit of going down to the Richmond pier on Sundays. After the end of wartime food rationing, he would buy a fresh salmon, or he would get steaks at the market. Then, he would take the groceries to his daughters' apartment and visit while they cooked dinner. I think they had to do his laundry, too, but that's another story.

Richmond,_California is sandwiched between Berkeley/Albany and San Pablo in the East Bay. The town experienced explosive growth during World War II. San Francisco Bay, with its many ports, saw an inevitable increase in military activity. There was also associated growth in existing industries, such as the Standard Oil Company, and the Ford Motor Company, which switched to building tanks during the war years. The Kaiser Shipyards were built along the Richmond waterfront and began recruiting workes from all across the United States. Richmond produced the most Victory and Liberty ships for the war effort, even breaking records in the process. As a result of all this, the once-sleepy Richmond became a hub of activity, with lines forming everywhere for restaurants and bathrooms, which were few and far between. There were all-nite movie theaters in operation for those who had nowhere else to go, and "hot-beds" where a place to sleep could be rented for eight hours.

Doris was especially fond of the outfit she wore in this photograph, which she bought in Richmond because it had a Scandinavian look and reminded her of home. It consisted of a bib and matching full skirt, all pink, which she wore with a white blouse. The pink roses in her hair were probably acquired at Kresses Dime Store or Woolworth's--trinket meccas in those days. Her sister, Phyllis, owned a similar outfit in lime green. I'm sure the girls looked quite cute together.

When the photograph was taken, Doris was at a dance hall in downtown Richmond. Photographers would wander through and offer to take pictures, which any gentleman accompanying a lady was expected to buy as a memento. I say "accompanying" gentleman, because it was common for girls to attend the dances in groups with friends or relatives and meet up with soldiers or sailors on leave, just to dance and enjoy the music. There were also many workers from the nearby Kaiser Shipyards, seeking entertainment with pockets full of newly-earned cash. The atmosphere inside those wartime dance halls was usually quite innocent, since in most places only soda pop was sold. But, as extra insurance, officers from various military branches made sure their enlisted men did not embarrass their country with any unwise behavior.

One place Doris attended frequently was the MacCracken Dance Hall. Steps led down from the street into a cellar-like basement. She remembers that the location was on the list of potential fallout shelters for Richmond during World War II. With the shipyards nearby, that was a very real concern. The dance halls in the Richmond area usually had big bands or country musicians performing, like the Dude Martin Hillbilly Trio in the photograph below. The scene was quite different from the dances Doris attended back in her hometown of Leonard, Minnesota.

The Dude Martin Hillbilly Trio performs at a Richmond dance hall
during World War II. Collection: Dorothea Lange Collection The War Years
(1942-1944) Richmond, California Dude. Oakland Museum of California.

Back in Leonard, dances were held at the community hall in town. For farming folk, most any occasion was also a good reason to hold a dance, and local musicians jumped at the chance to play. There were no formal bands and no one ever got together to practice, but there was always someone's brother or uncle who could do a fair job with a piano, guitar, or accordian. And, it wasn't just the Scandinavians who partied. Doris once commented on the German community near Leonard, who often held their own functions: "Those Germans sure knew how to party!"

There would also be dancing at family celebrations, like weddings or anniversaries. When Doris was very young, she and the other children would stand on the sidelines and tap their toes and wiggle about, longing to participate. At some point in her teens, she was invited to dance for the first time. The man who asked was a cross-eyed relation to a cousin of hers, and a generation older. Doris replied shyly that she'd like to, but she didn't know how. "Come on, I'll show you!" he replied happily, and took her out onto the dance floor to cut a rug.

After that, Doris danced every time she got the chance, and she began attending Leonard Community Hall events regularly with her sister, cousins and friends. Dancing was the most fun she'd ever had, and it was the only way for her to enjoy music back then, since her grandparents' farm did not have electricity for radio. So, it's no wonder she was willing to suffer the crowds of the Richmond dance halls and the attentions of all those eager enlisted men later on. A shy farm girl in the city need never sit at home with her knitting, if she is willing to dance the boom town jig with the best of 'em, that is.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Dearest Grandma: Hyggelig å møte deg?

The topic for the 41st edition of the Carnival of Genealogy is:
If you could have dinner with four of your ancestors who would they be and why? Would you have dinner in the present day or in one of their eras? Would you dine out or opt for a home cooked meal? What would you discuss at the dinner table? What would you most like to share with them about your life?

After reading about the next Carnival topic, I came to the quick conclusion that I would have to get together with all four of my mother's Norwegian-born great grandmothers. I actually got tears in my eyes on the drive home that day while thinking about meeting them. It will never really happen, of course, but I feel a little closer to it by fooling myself with my own imagination.

Why so much emotion? Some of it might be attributable to mid-life hormones, who knows. But, you see, I've never had a grandmother, and the thought of meeting four at once is pleasantly overwhelming. My own grandmother passed away when Mom was less than two years old, and her presence in our lives has been sorely missed.

But first, let me introduce you to my maternal great-great-grandmothers: four Norwegian immigrant pioneer women who sacrificed all for the benefit of their families. (The child that is my great grandparent is in brackets.)

Thibertine Johnson Winje

Thibertine (Bertina) Johnson Winje

Born: Thibertine Olsdatter Lassemo,
Grong, Nord Trondelag, Norway; 8 Jan. 1841.
Died: Detroit Lakes, Becker CO., MN; 15 Feb. 1930 (age 89).
Spouses: Baard Johnson (1835-1872); Eric L. Winje (1850-1930).
Ten children: [Ole M.], Julia, Regina, Louis, Lena, Emma M., Emma T., Edward, Hattie, and Annie.

Immigrated to Goodhue County., MN in 1866.

Kjersten Vigesaa Larson
Kjersten Vigesaa Larson

Born: Kjersten Olsdatter Stromstad,
Helleland, Rogaland, Norway; 15 June 1823.
Died: Granite Falls Township, Chippewa CO., MN; 28 Jan. 1917 (age 93).
Spouse: Erik Vigesaa Larson (1808-1891).
Seven children: Severine, Karen, Louis, Ole, Andrew, Ivar Ludwig, and [Malla].
Immigrated to La Crosse County, WI, in 1862.

Karen Bue Berge
Karen Bue Berge

Born: Karen Olsdatter Bue,
Faaberg, Oppland, Norway; 19 Aug. 1839.
Died: Yellow Medicine CO., MN; 4 Sept. 1914 (age 75).

Spouse: Gulbran Olsen Berge (1835-1882). Seven children: Othilie, [Ole Benhart], Gunda C., Gunda Caroline, Bertha, Jorgen, Sophia.
Immigrated to Chippewa County, MN in 1869.

Anne Vaterland Sloan
Anne (Slaaen) Sloan

Born: Anne Thorsdatter Vaterland,

Faaberg, Oppland, Norway; 20 May 1833.Died: Chippewa CO., MN; 11 Jan. 1918 (age 85).

Spouse: Hans Thorsen Slaaen (1826-1898). Six children: Thor H., Mathia, Karen, Thorvald, John T., and [Anne Marie].
Immigrated to Coon Valley, Vernon County, WI in 1853.

I selected these ladies for several reasons. Having lived in Norway, they would have a living memory of people and early conditions there--the "old ways." They would also be able to tell stories about the risk-filled, eventful transatlantic journeys aboard disease ridden sailing ships and reveal trials and successes they encountered once on American soil. And, if I did skip over the chance of meeting my great grandparents in favor of the next eldest generation, I would still learn about them because my g g grandmas would certainly be willing to talk about their own children. Also, if no men are within earshot during our visit, they might even reveal a few foibles about their husbands and brothers, too.

I would choose to go back in time to about 1900, when each tippoldemor (great grandmother) was old enough to have lived a pretty full life, but young enough to be vibrant and clear in their memory. Why not bring them into the future? Because the object is to get to know them and their ways, and not to scare them silly.

We have seen more change over the past few decades, since my parents first marveled at "I Love Lucy" coming through our old Packard Bell television set, than our pre-20th century ancestors experienced over centuries of rural living in Norway, with the exception of perhaps the steam engine. Malla Larson Johnson (daughter of my g g grandma, Kjersten Larson) was actually afraid of electric lights when they finally arrived on her Clearwater County, Minnesota farm in the mid-1940s. Power lines were a long time in coming because it took many years for work crews to dig holes for all the necessary light poles in rural areas. Can you imagine the intense stimulation and fear someone from the past would feel if dropped into our century, especially an elderly person? I have to close my eyes and grimace at the thought.

Dearest Grandma, Hyggelig å møte deg? (how are you)?

This is a phrase I might never be able to use, since I would choose to learn about my little grandmas by blending into their time period as much as possible. Sure, I would probably mangle my masquerade as a good Norwegian-American pioneer girl, but let's give it a whirl.

Chippewa County, Minnesota is the location where my four g g grandmas eventually all settled with their husbands and family. Thank goodness, or my great grandparents would never have found each other. I have always loved the transitional feel of September, when the lowering afternoon sun shines like fire through tree branches, and the mornings are misty and mild. A Sunday in mid-September would be perfect. Though summer was the busiest season of year on a homestead, it was also the time that farming families could enjoy good weather and make rounds of visits with friends and relations.

I would invite each grandma to kaffe on a Sunday afternoon when they are more relaxed than normal, let's say, Sunday, September 16, 1900. Scandinavian-Lutheran pioneer women aspired to keeping the Sabbath holy, since the other six days of the week were sure to include endless rounds of back-breaking work. I'm not sure how they succeeded, but that was the general goal.

For the first meeting, I would put on some comfortably-worn blue calico, pull my hair back, and remove all of my jewelry. I would pretend to be a distant cousin who is, surprisingly enough, related to all of them through an ancestor who left Norway many years before they did. Due to my lack of the appropriate accent, I'd probably have to say that I was born in the wild west... which is the truth, come to think of it.

Do you think they would buy it? I'm sure they would be skeptical. They would be stiffly polite at first, but sweet, and they might ask a few indirect questions. I think they would at least be curious to see what this newcomer has to say, and whether or not she is full of herself and should be avoided in future (now, there's an interesting thought).

My mother grew up on a Minnesota farm belonging to her Norwegian-American grandparents, and although she did not personally know the generation of which I am writing, she had a few pointers for me on how my g g grandmothers might react. You bet I'm going to take advantage of her as a resource! Mom says that if the ladies are shy, like most Norwegian farm women she ever knew, they would probably not accept an invitation from a stranger, even if I claimed to be related.  I surmised that the invitation would have to be extended by a mutual friend of theirs, perhaps someone they went to church with.

Dear Mrs. [Berge],

Would you be so kind as to join me and several other ladies for coffee on Sunday, September 16, at 2:00 p.m.? A relation of yours will be staying with my family for a few days, and I am hoping to introduce you to her. Please r.s.v.p. to me through the post office, or at church next Sunday.

Respectfully yours,

Mrs. Lars Petersen

Surely there must have been a "Mrs. Lars Petersen" somewhere in Chippewa County. At the home of Mrs. Petersen, I would set a buffet table with some offerings a Norwegian might expect to find, including some of the following: vafler (waffles) with lingonberries, goat cheese, hard-boiled eggs, lefse, breads, ham, herring, fruit salad, and Norwegian cookies and cakes, including fattigmann and krumkaker. Oh, and plenty of kaffe, of course!

On a separate table, I would lay out all of my old photographs in the hope that some unknown persons might be identified. The photos could also serve as props for conversation. The problem is that coming from the future, these photographs are bound to look a little worn. This might lead each of my grandmas to raise an eyebrow ever-so-slightly and sneak glances at one another, wondering how I could take such poor care of my belongings. "Strike One" for the wannabe Norwegian-American pioneer girl.

You may notice that all four of my g g grandmas look quite similar. I'm sure they were similar in their ways, as well. They were all Norwegian, all about the same size (around five feet in height), and all of a quiet, measured countenance... shy, even. They all wore their hair pulled back with the part in the middle, as was the practical custom for Scandinavian females in the 19th century. They lived hard lives, and it showed in their faces. They owned no cosmetics, used no fine lotions, had no botox treatments, and consumed no vitamins or fortified drinks to help protect their health. They spent countless hours outdoors in the wind, sun, rain, and snow. Caffeine may have been their only vice, since Norwegian-Americans learned at an early age to love coffee. It was a luxury seldom available in Norway, but it was easily attainable in the United States.

Pioneer living was especially hard on women, and even though it colored every nuance of their physical expression, it does not mean that Bertina, Kjersten, Karen, and Anne were not capable of great warmth, generosity, and even humor when appropriate. But, when they were motivated to set things right and see the work done, they could probably also be a bit critical, aloof, or demanding. They had 24-7, never-ending jobs in caring for their children, feeding and clothing their families, and supporting their husbands, neighbors, churches, and community: all from scratch. There was no "time out" for good behavior, no day at the spa, no weekend with the girls, no new spring wardrobe, and sometimes, no shelter or food either. What they had in abundance was know-how, determination, strength, faith, and sheer resilience.

I would want to hear what my grandmas have to say about their lives and families--telling their stories with those wonderful rolling accents and funnily adapted Norwegian-English phrases--and take my cues from there. Firing off questions like a reporter would be taken as prying, and I'm supposed to be a good Norwegian-American pioneer girl, remember?

I'd like to hear from Bertina about her transition from homesteader's wife to town life as the wife of an attorney and judge, and how she managed to keep on going after the loss of so many children. Karen would, no doubt, tell me of her husband's wild and woolly experiences aboard the Hannah Parr, the emigrant ship he sailed on from Bergen to Quebec in 1868. The ship was devastated in a storm and had to limp back to Limerick, Ireland for month-long repairs. Aside from the near catastrophe, this was a rather jolly stopover for some of the Norwegian travelers. You can read about it in The Irish Adventure of the Hannah Parr, my 8/10/2007 blog entry. Kjersten's life in America began in a La Crosse area sod house around the time of the southwestern Minnesota Indian massacres. Whenever her husband had to make a trip into town, some of the children would sit on the roof to watch for hostile Indians. She would have plenty of early homsteading stories, I'm sure. And, last but not least, Anne, about whom I know the least, can tell me what it was like to give birth to my great grandmother in a covered wagon as the family moved from Wisconsin to Minnesota. She would also have a lot of information about one of the earliest Norwegian settlements in the midwest: Coon Valley. I can tell right now that it's going to take longer than one afternoon!

Not too long ago, I had the experience of meeting some of my Berge cousins for the first time. I have not met many relations from this family line, and before a word dropped from our mouths, I felt like I knew them. I am hoping that this same sort of genetic attraction will take hold and draw my little grandmas into feeling immediately at ease with me. Then, I can come to know a bit about their world and how it fits into the perspective of history, but also how it fits into the here and now, and with who I am--a crumb of truth and understanding sought after by all genealogists and family historians.

When all the kaffe is gone, and everyone has had their fill of pastries from the floral china platters, how successful do you think my masquerade might have been? My guess is that my little grandmas might be willing to meet with me again.  In the meantime, they would spend hours discussing my spotty Norwegian sensibility, as well as the mysterious family connection. I can hear them now: "Ja, she was nice enough... but, goodness, how nosy!"

Friday, January 18, 2008

There Really is a Washington State

I was investigating Waymarking (see my previous post), which uses GPS coordinates to mark locations of interest, when it struck me that perhaps the whole of Washington State should be waymarked.

No, seriously!

I can't think of the number of times I have felt compelled to write out Washington STATE, rather than leaving it as: "Washington." For one thing, it is continually mistaken for Washington D. C., which, granted, is an important place. But, it's not a whole state, now is it? How can anyone miss something that's 360 miles wide and 240 miles long?

The most ludicrous example came about when my husband, John, was trying to solve a problem with a well-known parcel delivery service. Now, geography is this company's very vocation--their middle name, so to speak. You would think that sorting out a delivery problem with a company that is motivated by potential future business would be relatively easy. In many cases, I'm sure it is. However, one time when John was transferred to a supervisor somewhere across the nation at the origin of the problem, the conversation went something like this:

John: "I'm having a problem getting my package delivered. It's been returned twice now."

Supervisor: "And what is your address?"

John: "Such and such; such and such; Washington; zip."

Supervisor: "Washington?"

John: "Yes, Washington."

Supervisor: "D.C., right?"

John: "No, Washington State, on the west coast."

Supervisor: "Washington is on the east coast."

John: "I mean Washington STATE, on the west coast."

Supervisor: "There's no Washington out there."

John: "Oh, yes there is."

Supervisor: "I've never heard of a Washington STATE."

John: "Picture a map of the west coast. What's above California?"

Supervisor: "Oregon."

John: "Okay, and what's above Oregon?"

Supervisor: "Canada."

John: "I suggest you get out a map and take another look!"

I am not making this up. We finally got our package delivered, and hopefully, the delivery company is now giving geography quizzes to its employees. Parents, don't ever let your children assume that studying geography is no longer important.

Before ending this, I just want to give out a few state facts about lovely Washington.

Washington is:

--the 42nd state of the union (1889)
--nicknamed The "Evergreen State"
--the only state named after a president
--home to about six and a half million people
--elector of the nation's first Asian-American state governor, Gary Locke
--host to many 21st century mega-businesses, like Boeing, Microsoft, Nintendo, Amazon.com, Weyerhauser, and others
--home to the 9th largest Native American population in the nation (2005 Census).
--producer of most of the nation's raspberries, hops, spearmint oil, apples, and more
--bisected by the lovely (and volcano-filled) Cascade Mountains, from the northern border with British Columbia to the southern border with Oregon
--known for its many scenic icons, including: Mt. Rainier, Mt. Baker, Mount St. Helens, the Puget Sound, the Palouse, the Columbia River, the rugged coastline, and much more...

"Yes, Virginia, there really is a" Washington STATE!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Homestead on the Prairie

After spending most of my life hearing about Minnesota and my mother's early years on a Norwegian American farm, I finally got to visit that state in 2002, and again in 2004. As a self-respecting family historian, I took along a list of important people and places to see within a short period of time, or... die trying! One place high on my list was the old homestead property in Chippewa County, where my great grandfather, Ole Martin Johnson, cut his farming teeth. The property originally belonged to Ole's parents, Baard and Thibertine Johnson. The Johnson family, which included Baard, Thibertine, and their children, Ole and Julia, emigrated from Grong Parish, Nord Trondelag, Norway in May 1866.

The homestead property has not been in my family's possession since about 1901, but it is easily accessed via an existing county road, and the current owners seem to be aware of its historic value to a myriad of Johnson visitors over the years. My visit was made on a pleasant and dry day in mid-September. The once carefully cultivated fields surrounding the old homestead have been left for nature to reclaim, and the tall domestic grasses swarmed with little black grasshoppers and their rhythmic summertime clicks.

The entrance was blocked with debris and the door could not be opened without risk of damage. I was able to look inside the windows of the cabin, stepping gingerly across broken glass in my open-toed sandals, and was excited to find that the appearance of the interior matches the description of the original dwelling on the homestead application. In the photographs below, note the Scandinavian style gable over the small entry way. The 12 ft. by 14 ft. cabin has only two rooms, and there is no running water or electricity. Tucked underneath a large oak tree near an old barn, it could easily be mistaken for a shed. The tree looks to have been planted shortly after the cabin was built, which would have been in 1868. [1]

Johnson Homestead Cabin, Chippewa County, MN,
photographed in September 2004, by Chery Kinnick

Johnson Homestead Cabin, Chippewa County, MN,
photographed in Winter 2007, by Susan Montano

Baard and Thibertine Johnson were some of the first settlers in the Granite Falls Township area of Chippewa County, Minnesota. In the fall of 1868, the Johnsons left Goodhue County, Minnesota, where they lived for two years after arriving in America. They headed west to New Ulm and then turned to the northwest and followed the Minnesota River for 85 miles or more to the area near Chippewa City. Prior to 1870, it was easiest for all travelers with goods to follow the river upstream, not by boat, but with a wagon and oxen. Upon reaching their destination, the Johnsons filed homestead papers on 80 acres in Section 18 of Granite Falls Township.

A federal census taker called at the Johnson homestead on 17 June 1870. It was the start of summer, and Baard Johnson was probably hard at work in the fields. His wife, Thibertine, may have been the one who answered the census taker's questions, still struggling, no doubt, with the English language. The 1870 census listed the family members as: "Bard Johnson, age 35 (farmer); Bertina, age 30 (keeping house); son, Olie, age 10; and daughter, Julia, age 7." After farming for less than two years, the value of Baard Johnson’s real estate was recorded as $220.00. [2]

Although the popular image of a prairie evokes vast expanses of flat land, part of the Johnson property slopes gently to Hawk Creek, a Minnesota River tributary. Its proximity to the creek ensured that there were some trees to be taken for lumber in the early years of settlement. The Johnsons had an advantage being near to water, but according to the current land owners, the acreage is quite rocky and must have required tremendous labor to till and prepare the soil for farming, especially with the primitive equipment Baard Johnson had to use.

Unfortunately, Baard Johnson never saw his American immigrant dreams come to fruition. He died from typhoid fever on 28 July 1872, one year short of fulfilling the required five-year homestead period. He was initially buried on his own land, but his grave was relocated in about 1900 to nearby Saron Lutheran Cemetery, in preparation for the sale of the property. His widow, Thibertine, remarried in March 1874, but not before the federal requirements were fulfilled under her deceased husband's name. When Baard and Thibertine's son, Ole Johnson, was old enough to farm independently, he was deeded the homestead as his rightful inheritance. [3]

I consider this old cabin to be one of the most important legacies of my family's history. Oh, if walls could talk, I would sit right there with a recording device for as long as it takes! But, all I have are these wonderful photographs, a few facts, my imagination, and the memory of the thrill I felt when first standing upon the same ground as my immigrant ancestors at the beginning of their American journey.

[1] Description of original building on the Johnson homestead: Land Entry File, Cert. 2749, Johnson, Berndt, “Final Proof Required under Homestead Act May 20, 1862,” NARA, Washington D.C.

[2] Baard Johnson household, 1870 U.S. census, Chippewa County, Minnesota, population schedule, Granite Falls Township, Chippewa City post office, page two.

[3] Baard Johnson’s name is incorrectly listed as “Barnett Johnson” on his death certificate, Chippewa County Deaths, Book A: 2.

Monday, January 14, 2008

With a Name Like "Johnson"

The latest Carnival of Genealogy, hosted by Jasia at Creative Gene calls for stories about living relative connections. All of us know how valuable family networking can be to obtain additional data, stories, and photographs to supplement our research, but also to satisfy our intense curiosity, which we all have or we wouldn't be doing this, now would we?

Most of my discoveries came a few short years ago, when I began to seek out and document the history of my mother's side of the family: the Johnsons. That journey eventually took me to nearly all points of the compass.

With a name like "Johnson" - where does one begin?

I wrote my first letter of inquiry to an older cousin who revealed my great grandfather's Norwegian surname, which was a start. But, in itself, the info did not lead anywhere without also learning to use the Norwegian census, Digitalarkivet, and other genealogical databases, including immigration records.

My mother was raised by her grandparents, and I learned that her grandfather, Ole Martin Johnson (my great grandfather) also had a full sister and eight half-siblings that I hadn't been aware of. The central figure in this family was, of course, the mother of all of them: Thibertine (Bertina) Johnson Winje.

What's In a Name?

The thing to remember about Norwegian ancestors is that a surname can be deceptive. One really needs to get a handle on the location of origin, right down to the farm. Often, this means finding church or immigration records first. If the location of origin is not certain, then research can literally run in circles. Fortunately, early Norwegians also identified themselves by their farm name, which was often tacked on to a patronymic surname. In the case of Ole Johnson's mother, her maiden name was Thibertine Olsdatter Lassemo. "Olsdatter" meant that she was the daughter of a man who also went by the name of Ole, and "Lassemo" referred to the farm in Grong, Nord Trondelag where she lived.

I am thinking of one cousin (who shall remain anonymous) who took his wife on a long awaited vacation to Norway, only to spend a large amount of time walking through cemeteries near the old homelands searching for ancestors by hunting down "Johnson" or "Larson" surnames among the higgledy-piggledy rows of worn tombstones. Ack! If only he had known back then...

Patronymic naming practices make it impossible to go by surname alone, or what you get is a collection of hundreds of unrelated "John's son," or "Lars' son." Fortunately, Cousin stopped his cemetery cavorting after his long-suffering wife threatened divorce and exclaimed, "I won't go back to Norway!" He came away from the trip with his marriage still intact, and an intimate impression of lovely old Norwegian cemeteries, especially, how tiny the plots all seemed...

For more detailed information on navigating the maize of Norwegian surnames, see Norwegian Naming Practices.

The Immediate Family of Thibertine Johnson Winje


Baard Johnson & Thibertine Olsdatter Lassemo
married 1860, Grong Parish, Nord Trondelag, Norway

Two offspring:

Ole Martin Baardsen, born 1860, Grong, Nord Trondelag, Norway
(ten children) [1]

Ellen Julie (Julia) Baardsdatter, born 1862, Grong, Nord Trondelag, Norway
(seven children) [2]


Eric Larsen Winje & Thibertine Olsdatter Johnson
married 1874, Chippewa County, Minnesota, USA

Eight Offspring:

Berthe Regine (Regina) Winje (Strand), born 1873, Chippewa CO, MN
(five surviving children)

Louis Peter Winje, born 1874, Chippewa CO, MN
(no children)

Lena Marie Winje, born 1876, Chippewa CO, MN
(no children)

Emma M. Winje, born 1877, Chippewa CO, MN
(died as an infant: 1877 or 1878)

Emma Thalette Winje, born 1879, Chippewa CO, MN
(no children)

Edward Theodore Winje, born 1881, Chippewa CO, MN
(two children)

Hattie Christine Winje, born 1883, Chippewa CO, MN
(died 1888, in Duluth, MN)

Annie Jorgene Winje, born 1885, Chippewa CO, MN
(died 1888, in Duluth, MN

In the quest for information about my great grandfather's family, I found that his mother, Thibertine Johnson, re-married and bore eight children with her second husband, Eric Winje. Five of the Winje children preceeded their parents in death, and out of eight, only two had children of their own. I knew there had to be Winje descendants out there, "somewhere in Canada." The goal was to find descendants of Edward Theodore Winje, who emigrated to Saskatchewan in the 1890s by way of North Dakota, and descendants of Regina Winje Strand, who were likely still in Minnesota.

Tracking down the Winje branch of the family involved mostly luck. I discovered an online death index for British Columbia, so I started there. Fortunately, the name "Winje" is somewhat unique, and B.C. turned out to be the correct province--what are the odds of that? I located Edward Theodore Winje, who had died in Nelson, B.C., and an Eric Winje (a namesake of Edward's father), who lived nearby in Slocan, according to the telephone directory. I took a chance and wrote a letter, and the hunch turned out to be correct.

After decades of no communication, the Winjes and the Johnsons were reunited. A cousin and I visited the Winjes for the first time in 2004: Karna Franche, Lori Moore, Abbie Winje, and their spouses (see We'll Miss You, Karna, my blog posting for 9/25/07). Without that Winje family connection, I would not have a third of the information I do for the family history book I am about to publish.

I tracked down the Strand branch of the Winje family by pretty much the same method: 1) gather as much information about names, dates, and places from known cousins, 2) check the death indexes and white pages for potential relatives in locations of interest, and 3) narrow down the choices and take a chance and write a letter or call. Doing this put me into contact with a grandson of Regina Winje Strand.

Don't Forget Connections With Old Family Friends

Perhaps my most important connection in regards to gathering historical documents was not made through contacting unknown living relatives, but with the descendants of friends of the Winje ancestors. According to the Winjes in British Columbia, the first family immigrant, Lars Eriksen Winje, came from a village with a similar name in Sor Trondelag, Norway. In Norwegian, the letter "w" is somewhat interchangeable with "v." The Winjes emigrated from Vinjeora, Hemne, Sor Trondelag.

I discovered that someone had put together a website in order to gather genealogical data for the area surrounding Hemne. Miraculously, the website contained an article written about the Winjes' emigration to America from Vinjeora in 1869: EN UTVANDRERFAMILIE FRA VINJEØRA i 1869.

But... it was in Norwegian, and I'd had only one beginning class in the language. What to do?

I e-mailed the webmaster for Hemneslekt.net and asked if he had any information on the author of the article, Markus Wessel. Fortunately, the webmaster was fluent in English and put me in contact with Wessel's daughter, since Wessel himself was no longer living. Astri was kind enough to e-mail and inform me that her family still had some original letters mailed by the Winjes, dating as early as 1869. Oh, my goodness! Primary documents are akin to buried treasure, and I was so excited at this point that I could hardly stand it. The letters came, and afterwards came my quest to get them translated. At this point, I have found assistance in translating not only Markus Wessel's online article about the emigration of the Winje family, but most of the letters.

Through the quest to make connections with living relatives, I have found that most people are excited to help and anxious to relate bits and pieces of information and stories passed down to them. Some of my cousins went all out to make sure that I obtained access to books, albums, and copies of rare photographs and documents. In the past few years, I have met many wonderful people who I am proud to count among my cousins and family friends. Tusen takk to them!

Who's in your family's living treasure chest?

[1] and [2] The patronymic naming practices of early Norway meant that a child's surname reflected who the father was. In the case of Baard Johnson, his children were: Ole Baardsen (Baard's son), and Ellen Julie Baardsdatter (Baard's daughter).

Sunday, January 13, 2008

They Don't Make Them Like This Anymore

My great grandparents, Ole Martin and Malla Johnson, were wed on February 28, 1886, in Granite Falls Township, Chippewa County, Minnesota. This is a copy of their marriage certificate--beautiful, isn't it? The image may appear a bit too small to read the proverbs, so I've written them out.[1]

What therefore God Hath Joined Together, Let Not Man Put Asunder

Man is the head of the Woman

Let the Husband Love His Wife

Woman is the Glory of the Man

Let the Wife Reverence Her Husband

The Wife is the Crown to Her Husband

A Prudent Wife is from the Lord; Her Price is Far above Rubies

(Image detail)

(Image detail)

The justice of the peace who performed the ceremony, pictured at the bottom of the certificate, was Eric L. Winje, the groom's stepfather. In 1874, Winje married Thibertine Johnson, Ole Johnson's widowed mother, and the couple had eight children together.

For the wedding, the groom dressed in a sack suit—the standard fashion for a modest and frugal man during the 1880s. [2]

The bride, Malla Larson, wore a two-piece dress of dark silk, which her mother probably helped sew by hand. The focus of the design was multiple layers of ruffles peaking out from beneath a top skirt and carefully draped along Malla’s corseted waist. Her jacket was fitted with a matching peplum, and dark collar and cuffs, and had no fewer than 16 buttons down the front. Underneath the jacket she wore a white blouse to protect against February’s chill. Her long hair, the same rich brown as her father’s, was arranged in a knot on the back of her head, and her bangs had been curled tight with hairpins the night before. It was a style she would keep all of her life, though as she grew older, she found it easier to give up the fuss and fashion of curling bangs, and let them grow out instead.

Ole Martin Johnson weds
Malla Vigesaa Larson,
Feb. 28, 1886

The bride’s jewelry included a bar pin that held together the collar of her blouse, and two rings that adorned her left hand: a wedding ring, and another band worn on her index finger. A locket hung around her neck at the end of a golden chain, probably a wedding gift to Malla from her parents, since it contained miniature photographs of each of them. On the left locket face was a tiny image of her father, Erik Vigesaa Larson, who had quite a dapper appearance with his large, intense eyes and full moustache. On the right was her mother, Kjersten, a plain, no-nonsense woman, who read from her bible each day.

After the marriage, Ole Johnson and his new bride continued to farm the homestead that Ole's mother deeded to him along the banks of Hawk Creek in Granite Falls Township, where the Johnsons lived until 1901.

Copyright © 2006-2008 by Chery Kinnick

Original material and images may not be reproduced without permission.

[1] Johnson-Larson marriage, 28 February 1886, Granite Falls, Minnesota. Certificate supplied by Justice of the Peace, Eric L. Winje, for Chippewa County. Copy held in 2006 by Chery Kinnick.

[2] Definition of “sack suit”: a 19th century men’s fashion, typically a wool suit of black or gray, with matching pants, and usually four buttons on the coat. The sack suit began as a rather baggy garment in the 1850s, but became more fitted in the 1860s and after. It was considered casual day wear for businessmen, but more formal for the average farmer or worker—something worn to church, for example. Description derived from The Gentleman’s Page, http://www.lahacal.org/gentleman/sack.html (accessed 19 October 2006).

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Marking the Journey of Six Generations

Capricorns from Different Worlds

January 8th marks the birthday of two women who are related, but part of different worlds created by time, place, and cultural, historical, and social influences.

Let's compare brief bios of the two, spanning 130 years--the amount of time in between the dates the photographs were taken. The first photograph is of Thibertina (Bertina) Johnson Winje, a Norwegian immigrant, and the second is of her great-great-great granddaughter, Courtney (my own daughter), who is now close to the same age as her ancestor when the photograph of Bertina was taken.

Bertina (1875)
Born: January 8, 1841, in Nord-Trondelag, Norway
Marital status: married: 13 yrs (1st marriage to a farmer); 56 yrs (2nd marriage to an attorney and judge)
Occupation: pioneer, farmer, homemaker, wife, and mother
Education: rural schooling up to confirmation age
Favorite things: attending school functions; giving dolls to granddaughters
Hobbies: knitting, crocheting, embroidery, and other useful handiwork
Travel: emigration from Norway to America across the Atlantic
Special challenges: feeding and clothing family from scratch, fatigue from physical labor, disease epidemics, crop failure, severe weather, learning a new language as a matter of necessity

Courtney (2006)
Born: (currently 20-something), Washington State
Marital status: single
Occupation: barista; in training to be a computer network specialist
Education: some college
Favorites: cats, chocolate, and clubbing
Hobbies: making jewelery and hair pieces, modeling, playing the flute and guitar
Travel: Driving across the U.S. from Florida to the Pacific Coast, plus visiting British Columbia and Germany.
Special challenges: Working & attending school at the same time; paying bills, inflation, nutrition, keeping medical benefits, sorting through all the choices

I'll let the reader determine any similarities or differences. The point is: we've come a long way, Baby!

When Bertina Johnson Winje set foot on the Norden, the sailing ship that brought her and her small family from the port of Bergen, Norway to America in 1866, she had no idea what the future would bring. In her highest hopes, she sought greater opportunity for her children, and wanted them to be able to have their own land and greater educational possibilities. How surprised and pleased she must have been to see two of her daughters become teachers. One would go on to become a School Superintendent in Minnesota.

But, did Bertina ever dream of the possibilities for future generations? Things have changed drastically for women since she was a young immigrant pioneer woman in Chippewa County, Minnesota. My daughter, Courtney, faces challenges of her own in the present day--mostly economic ones--but she has certain advantages over living in the era of her g-g-g-grandmother: the right to vote, the ability to seek advanced education and choose a career, instant communication with others, relative freedom from life-threatening devastation due to severe weather or disease epidemic, the right to wear makeup and dress however she likes, and the opportunity to work and play in diverse groups. There is also the major luxury of kicking back and eating a prepackaged, microwaved entree rather than chasing the chicken, killing the chicken, plucking and cleaning the chicken, stoking the woodstove, boiling the chicken, getting out the breadboard, mixing and kneading breaddough, stoking the woodstove again... well, you get the idea.

Bertina had advantages of her own, though some may not have been realized until the perspective of history brought them to light. There is much to be said for the age-old human need to be close to the land, and having direct, consequential interaction with nature. Also, a dependency upon family life and utter faith brought security and acceptance during times of strife. Modern media and technology have altered the human pysche forever, for better, or for worse.

Sometimes, I look upon my daughter and wonder which of her genetic traits have come down through the generations, and from which ancestors. Is that slate/blue-gray, geode-like color of her eyes also those of an ancient ancestor's? What about her strawberry blonde hair color as a toddler? Who was it that gave her that slender frame... her nose, her ears? Am I hearing Bertina in Courtney's voice, or someone else? What about that funny little habit of hiccuping exactly three times after eating anything?

I will never know the answers to all of those mysteries. But, one thing is for certain: our ancestors live within our children, and in our children's children, and it was the sacrifices of those who came before that created the opportunities of the here and now. We are forever indebted to them.

Happy Birthday, Gals!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year's Greetings from Beautiful Seattle

Celebrate history-
it's a part of you

Seattle celebrates BIG

What did 2007 mean to the Seattle area, and to Washington State?

What about 1907?

Take a look at Washington State's online history website,
HistoryLink.org for "This Week Then" articles (currently hightlighting 12/21/2007-1/3/2008).

See what's been happening in the great Pacific Northwest.

HistoryLink.org "is the first online encyclopedia of local and state history created expressly for the Internet."

Wishing you peace and joy in 2008

Space Needle fireworks Image:
Lindes at flickr.com

Remembering Margot Lucoff, Part III

(Continued from January 1st posts)

Margot Lucoff received her B.A. in Humanities and Classic Languages at U.C. Berkeley in 1976, and in 1979 earned an M. Litt. in Near Eastern Studies at the University of Durham, England, and then returned to Berkeley to complete a MLIS (Masters of Library and Information Science) in 1980. She worked as a cataloging librarian at the Berkeley Public Library (BPL) from 1984 until her death in July 2004.

Margot Lucoff, April 2004 (shown here holding
the child of
an acquaintance). Photo: Colleen Fawley.

In continuing this tribute to Margot, I'd like to pass along some stories about Margot shared by her fellow staff members at BPL:

I first met Margot walking around old Berkeley Public Library. We were both wearing long flowery dresses and Birkenstocks with socks and both had our long hair "styled" the same way. We pointed at each other and said, "Hey, I know we're going to be friends." - N. N.

About 10 years ago Margot was grieving the loss of her mother. She felt the pain of her loss very intensely. She came up with a very creative idea for dealing with her pain. she asked others to share it. She parceled out 12 months and asked 12 friends to each accept one month of her grieving period... I volunteered to become Margot's September support for as many Septembers as she might need the support... - J. E.

I vividly remember when we were at [the old Berkeley Public Library] and Reference got int the new edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. Margot had wanted it all her life, and arranged to buy the old set from the Friends [Friends of the Library]. She was dizzy for days with the glory of it, and would answer the phone: "Hello, this is Margot, I own the OED!" - S. H.

BPL compiled a binder/album in which the library staff have contributed memories, stories, or poems, entitled: "Hello, Sunshine: Memories of Margot."[1]

Margot's synagogue, Netivot Shalom, at 1316 University in Berkeley, also has a commemorative project. The last year or so of her life, Margot was in a quilt group of about six or seven women that made quilts on Jewish themes. The group had just started a project when she died, and they turned it into a memorial to her, putting on names of her family members, her e-mail address, and the message from her answering machine and other things that reminded them of Margot. It is currently hanging in the synagogue library. [2]

The number and quality of tributes to Margot suggest the number of lives she touched in a special way. She was a true ray of sunshine, as the so-named "Hello Sunshine" book of memories at BPL suggests: positive, supportive, academic, enthusiastic, and in awe of life and learning--a role model to many.

[1] Berkely Public Library Staff News, Summer 2004.
[2] Diane Berbaum, Netivot Shalom

Remembering Margot Lucoff, Part II

Close Friends are Family Invited in by the Heart...

During the first year of my friendship with Margot Lucoff, we began exchanging weekend visits. At age 13, I was hungry for information about the world, in general, and her Jewish home life was so different from my own sheltered one that it felt a bit like Pandora's box.

Margot Lucoff, graduation photo from Kennedy
High School, Richmond, California, 1971.

Margot's family moved to the Bay Area from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In a "funny twist of fate," as one of her friends put it, Margot was born on the same day her uncle died, and that friend remembers paying a condolence visit, as a small child, to Margot's aunt. [1]

Margot adored her brilliant and focused father, Julius Lucoff, an engineer by trade. I remember him as a somewhat austere man, who swept into a room like a crisp autumn breeze: quickly, silently, but commanding attention. The only time I saw him sitting in one place was at the dinner table, or at the piano, playing. As city engineer in 1958, he published a government map of Emeryville, California (OCLC: 23250224). Julius died in 1986, at age 75. [2]

Margot's mother, Zelma, was a kind and concerned woman, anxious to see Margot and her brother, Bill, do well. Sometimes, Zelma used my presence at their dining table to impress certain desired attributes upon her daughter, much to my chagrin. "Margot, sit up straight. See how Chery doesn't let her hair hang on her plate." Margot would grumble a bit and snap back in a congenial tone, "Oh, Ma!"

Zelma Lucoff passed away in 1991, five years after the death of her husband. As a mother, she had worked hard to introduce Margot to all the beauty, knowledge, and opportunity the world had to offer. I remember going along on a trip to the Lawrence Hall of Science, and afterwards, walking the UC Berkeley campus, where Margot later attended, and the herb garden nearby. One day, Margot and I were driven out to the beach in Alameda where we walked barefoot in the salty, mirky tide, and gingerly stepped over knobby and rubbery sea snails embedded in the bay floor. On the way home, we ate string cheese--it was my first taste. [3]

Margot's friendship was precious to me because of her open, candid spirit. Being with her was refreshing, and she always offered up the unexpected; she was full of new ideas. It was she who introduced me to the mysterious worlds of philosophy, other religions, astrology, incense, sealing wax (for envelopes), and even Simon and Garfunkle, among a hundred other things. On her bedroom ceiling, she had taped artistic posters of individual signs of the zodiac so that she "could see them while laying in bed."

During the holiday season, she gave unexpected gifts that I treasure to this day. At a time when I was used to receiving things like Avon cologne, jewelry, or stationery from family or friends, she gave me a map of the moon's surface and a glass prism. Margot provided tools with which to explore physics, astronomy, space, and history... showing that one could do more than just talk about the wonders of the universe.

Visit the Milwaukee Jewish Historical Website

Julius Lucoff was fascinated with science-fiction and was a member of the Bay Area branch of, I believe, the Science-Fiction Writers of America. Margot asked me to go along with her and her father to the club's private showing of "2001: A Space Odyssey," at a theater on Market Street in San Francisco. The theater was completely packed with people who took science-fiction with some degree of seriousness. Among the audience were local engineers, scientists, teachers, and writers, including author Poul Anderson, who would later serve as club president. Previewing "2001" was an exciting event to the science-fiction community, because it was the first film in many years to deal with space exploration in a sophisticated and intelligent manner, without the typical monster-of-the-day or tongue-in-cheek campiness.

I was also taken along to several science-fiction conventions. Oh, lucky me! At the Claremont Hotel in Oakland, I met Gene Roddenberry, the producer of Star Trek, and marveled for the first time at the art of science-fiction illustration. At another event held in S.F., Margot and I dashed from lecture to lecture, disrupting things to find seats in the crowded rooms, and then leaving each after only 5-10 minutes. She was always so excited to experience a piece of everything that it was hard to keep her in one spot for very long.

I owe my friend, Margot, a great deal of gratitude for expanding my horizons at at time of my life when lasting impressions were made: not just because of those special excursions I would never have gone on otherwise, but, for long coversations on topics that weren't really of interest to the average 13-year-old. She opened my eyes to the world at large: to science and art. She showed me how to explore new topics, new music, new ideas. She introduced me to Jewish family life and beliefs, and helped me realize similarities across cultures and religions, and not just differences.

Most of all, Margot was an example of what courage was in the face of a potentially devastating disease, and showed that a brave heart and passionate mind can conquer any limitation.

(To be continued in Part III)

Note: This tribute is based upon personal memories and conversations with Margot. If her family or friends should find any errors or inconsistencies with what they know to be true, please notify me at ckinnick@gmail.com, and I will be happy to make corrections.


[1] Bernbaum, Diane, e-mail to Chery Kinnick, Dec. 28, 2007.
[2] Lucoff, Julius. Social Security Death Index.
[3] Lucoff, Zelma. Social Security Death Index.

Remembering Margot Lucoff

The New Year Brings Thoughts of Old Friends

There are those who shine
and diffract life
to enlighten others,
like brilliant colors
from white light

through a glass prism.

Image: Glass prism

While attending Portola Junior High School in El Cerrito, California, I had a good friend by the name of Margot Beth Lucoff. Her friendship was special to me in many ways and it came at a formative time of my life, which ended up changing me, forever.

Margot and I lost touch after our junior high years, but in the early 1980s I sent a letter to her mother at the family's old address in El Cerrito. She happily forwarded it to Margot, who wrote back to me, and we renewed our friendship through letters. By 1982, I had been living in the Seattle area for several years, but I had a chance to visit her for one day during a trip to the Bay Area. If you have ever experienced the strange familiarity of meeting an old friend after the passage of many years, then you know about that peculiar mix of joy, expectation, and confusion involved.

In the early 1990s, things happened separately in both of our lives, and our letter writing dwindled and stopped. In 2005, I found out through the internet that Margot had died the year before. I was devastated that I hadn't had the chance to say goodbye, knowing it was my fault for not keeping in touch.

At the time, I wanted to remember her somehow, but couldn't find a way other than to donate to the foundation of her bequest. We no longer had any mutual acquaintances that I could contact and share memories with. That's why I'm writing this blog post now. Friends are family invited in by the heart. They enlighten and inspire us, and the distance of years does not change the special interaction that once occurred, nor does it lessen the pain of their loss.

An obituary was printed in the Sept./Oct. 2004 issue of "The Reel & Strathspeyper," a publication of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, San Francisco branch.
Friends of Margot Lucoff are sad to inform you of her death. She died on Thursday, July 22, at home, in her sleep, of natural causes. She was 51 years old.

Margot was introduced to Scottish Country dancing by her fiance,Mark De Lemos, in the mid-1980s, and danced primarily in the Berkeley Class.

Margot was at Mark's side when he died, in 1989, at the cancer research center in Seattle while awaiting a bone marrow transplant for leukemia. Later, in his memory, she attempted to become a bone marrow donor but did not make it past the first two screenings.

Margot worked for many years in the Berkeley Public Library's Cataloging Department and was active in the Jewish community.

Margot was born with neurofibromatosis (NF). She asked that the National Neurofibromatosis Foundation (NNFF), a non-profit medical foundation, be considered by anyone wishing to make a donation in her name. The website for donations, contact information, and information about NF is http://www.nf.org.

Margot and I had no classes together during junior high; we met because we hung out in the same area of the school yard during lunch break. At first glance, it probably seemed that we had nothing in common. Our personalities were different: she was outgoing and brash; I was quiet and shy. Our cultural backgrounds were different: she said that her Jewish ancestors were "White Russians,"or emigres from the Russian Civil War in the early 20th century; mine were midwestern Norwegian-American homesteaders of Lutheran faith. She had an opinion about nearly everything; I struggled with the barest confidence needed to even form an opinion. She guffawed openly and heartily; I hid my giggles behind my hand.

Margot Lucoff (left) at Portola Junior High School, with Adrienne Carlson, 1966, El Cerrito, California.

Being a young teen is hard enough, but Margot had particular challenges to face. I had only to deal with shyness, but she had to deal with the very real conditions of chronic disease. In her younger years, Margot spent many, many months in complete traction to help severe scoliosis caused by neurofibromatosis. She had to wear a spine and neck brace for years afterwards. The only outerwear that fit over it easily was a poncho. Whenever I remember Margot, I picture that ever-present red plaid poncho with the neck support sticking out of the top, her intense dark eyes and bravely open and smiling face above it.

We both had the utmost enthusiasm for the future, for all things cultural, and for Star Trek. Yes: Star Trek. Even a TV program (though an exceptional one for its time), can inspire bonds lasting beyond lifetimes.

A small group of us always stood around at lunch and discussed the latest episodes, trying our best to make clever "Trekky" jokes. Margot claimed the Captain Kirk role, probably because of her boisterous and adventuresome spirit; another friend, Robin, was Spock, I suppose because she admired his logic, and I was "Bones" McCoy, if for no other reason than it completed the trio. Other students must have thought we were crazy because we didn't spend our time complaining about boys and teachers, but the play-acting and musings filled many otherwise dull noon hours, and urged us on to related topics about life, the universe, and everything.

Our stage was the wide, terraced patios of Portola Junior High, which looked down the El Cerrito Hills toward San Pablo Avenue and beyond, to the San Francisco Bay. A kiosk supplied a daily ice cream and treats, at least until our pocket money ran out. Each day we ate our lunches on the terrace, and Robin bought her usual Hostess Suzy-Q's. We talked and joked inbetween glimpses of the Golden Gate Bridge--its vibrant orange color barely visible--and of its neighbor to the north, the sleeping lady form of Mt. Tamalpais. On misty days, the fog horn on Alcatraz Island in the bay punctuated our conversation. It was a time for dreaming...

But, dreams are often shattered by those who do not have equal vision and optimism, and by those whose minds are clouded by ignorance and hatred.

As Margot was leaving school on or near the last day of the ninth grade, she was accosted in a hallway by a group of troublemakers who taunted her and threatened bodily harm if she attended El Cerrito High School the next autumn. Though she was courageous in many ways, this very personal attack frightened Margot deeply, and she decided to alter her path and attend a different high school. A young person's universe revolves around those physically close by, and so, a special time came to a close and we each went our separate ways. But, fortunately, it was not for good.

(To be continued in Part II)

Note: This tribute is based upon personal memories and conversations with Margot. If her family or friends should find any errors or inconsistencies with what they know to be true, please notify me at ckinnick@gmail.com, and I will be happy to make corrections.